The thick of battle
Chapter 5: Into the Fire
The brandy had done nothing to calm his nerves. Julian Robinson rocked back and forth on the bench, clutching his rifle so hard that his knuckles were white. The ex-naval officer was terrified, and hadn't left the hold since the battle had begun. It's not that he had no battle experience. But when he was fighting with the navy, the advantage had always been on their side. Always. But this time, one glance of the Sky Tiger had been enough to turn Julian into a nervous wreck. The ships had survived their first two passes at each other, but now there was shouting and screaming echoing through the ceiling, punctuated by gunfire and the sound of wood splintering. The Steamhawke had been boarded and all Julian could do was hold his rifle and sit there amongst the barrels and crates in the hold, his eyes wide like saucers.
Suddenly the door was kicked open by a pirate that Julian didn't recognise. The man was tall and thin and stepped into the hold with his head stooped low. His face was obscured by both his bandana and his long greasy hair, and he was carrying a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other. The faceless pirate waved his gun around, trying to spot any movement in the darkness of the hold, but Julian was already hidden from sight with his back thrust against a barrel and his eyes wider than ever. The stranger was exploring the room carefully, but managed to walk past Julian without spotting him. Julian silently stood up behind the pirate and took aim with his rifle. The sounds of the gunshot and the sight of the man's body falling to the ground were enough to bring Julian to his senses.
His nerves steeled, Julian instinctively worked the mechanism of his rifle to to load in another round, and left the hold. Ahead, he knew, was the engine room, but a group of people were standing in the way. He must have spotted five or six strangers standing in front of the hatch, and with the frantic pounding on the staircase above him, Julian reckoned another half dozen were about to join them. A mountain of a man crashed down the stairs and handed a barrel of gunpowder to his comrades. They set to work on the barrel, attaching some kind of explosive device. Julian discovered when they ran past him to find cover that he wasn't as concealed as he had hoped. The giant spotted Julian and he was wrenched off his feet with five meaty fingers clasped around his neck. He was thrust so hard into the staircase that he wasn't sure if it was his back breaking or the wood. A loud whistling from behind them caught the giant's attention. He wheeled around and it was at this point that the device stopped whistling, and detonated. Julian was lucky to have a huge figure standing between him and the explosion, and the huge figure was lucky to be so huge, because somehow he survived the blast. As it was, Julian was stunned and could only watch as the man picked himself up out of the debris that was now littering the broken corridor. The giant's face was mutliated, an unnatural grin now affixed to his face. He seemed to have forgotten all about Julian, instead following his comrades through the gaping hole where the engine room hatch used to be. Julian passed out amid the wreckage on the staircase.